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Messel Travel Bursary recipient, Matthew Foulkes, reports from the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, 20 - 24 August, Washington D.C.

29 Nov 2017

Matthew Foulkes was awarded the Messel Travel Bursary to attend the 254th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition, 20 - 24 August 2017. Here, he tells us about the conference and talks that have improved his research and understanding.

'I am currently a final year PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My PhD has focussed on the synthesis of analogues of natural products known as tanshinones, and the evaluation of these compounds in a zebrafish model of inflammation, under the supervision of Prof Simon Jones and Prof Stephen Renshaw.

'I was delighted to be able to attend the 254th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting & Exposition from 20 -24 August 2017 in Washington D.C., thanks to this Messel bursary awarded to me by SCI. This is an extremely large international conference held in the USA twice annually, at which chemists from around the world gather to present and discuss exciting scientific results.

'I had previously heard lots of great things about the national ACS conferences, and so really wanted to attend for a number of reasons. Firstly, I relished the opportunity to communicate some exciting scientific results to an international community. I was accepted to give a poster presentation of my research at two different poster sessions: the Division of Medicinal Chemistry poster session on the first evening, and also the general ‘Sci-Mix’ poster session on the second evening. The ‘Sci-Mix’ session was formed of presenters specifically chosen from across all the ACS divisions, so I felt especially privileged at being invited to present at this. Presenting and discussing my research at this level was undoubtedly an incredible and rewarding experience for me. I had lots of interest in my work, some really useful feedback for further exploration, and a great set of new contacts!

'On that note, I felt that attendance at an international conference of this size and diversity would provide an unrivalled networking opportunity, allowing me to meet fellow scientists from all around the world – and it certainly did! This was particularly important to me, as it is my aspiration to obtain an international postdoctoral position upon completing my PhD. At this conference, I was able to not only showcase my science and promote my work more widely, but also meet a variety of prospective academic supervisors in person, as well as students who work in their groups currently. This allowed me to hear first-hand about working in particular research groups I was interested in. I was also able to continue building a network of fellow scientists, and possibly even future employers?! I hope that this has perhaps enhanced my career prospects, in addition to providing the opportunity to hear about lots of other exciting science being done across the globe, which was certainly an amazing experience for me.

Over the five days of conferencing, with so many different talks on at the same time, I enjoyed being able to move around all parts of the conference centre and surrounding hotels, in my quest to hear as many talks as possible, on topics spanning organic, medicinal and biological chemistry, and catalysis. I got to hear from lots of different presenters, ranging from students like myself, through to early career researchers, all the way up to some ‘big names’ who I've wanted to hear speak for a long time! These included, but were not limited to: Sarah Reisman and Brian Stoltz (Caltech), Phil Baran (Scripps), Emily Balskus (Harvard), Elizabeth Jarvo and Chris Vanderwal (California, Irvine), Melanie Sanford (Michigan), Scott Miller (Yale), John Hartwig, Michelle Chang and Chris Chang (California, Berkeley), Scott Denmark (Illinois), and the fantastic Carolyn Bertozzi (Stanford). I particularly enjoyed Sarah Reisman’s talk on creative complex natural product synthesis, and Carolyn Bertozzi’s exciting research in bioorthogonal chemistry. So much amazing chemistry to hear about, all in one place!

I also got the chance to hear about ChemRxiv, a new chemistry preprint server developed by the ACS, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and other organisations. The Beta version launched just before the conference, and I was interested to hear about the plans with this going forward.

Away from the presentations, the Exposition was massive! Lots of different chemical companies and societies were present...with a great haul of freebies too! The ACS also had a section at the Expo, and it was here I was introduced to ACS Reviewer Lab, a new resource designed to help early career researchers and students such as myself work towards becoming more informed about all aspects of peer review. I took this course when I returned from the conference, and found it incredibly useful – I would certainly recommend it to fellow students who want to learn more.

One of my favourite things about this conference was that by the first morning, myself and my friends from Sheffield had quickly befriended a group of students from Strathclyde, St. Andrews, and Leeds. It was great being able to enjoy the conference together and also socialise, in the small bits of free time that we did have! We had a little bit of time to explore the city of Washington D.C., and I found it amazing! A really pleasant city which still felt quieter than a capital city, yet full of cool landmarks, free museums, and stunning memorials. I'd love to return there again someday – still so much to see and do!

Overall, this was undoubtedly an incredible conference for me to experience, and one which I'd love to return to again one day. I took great pride in being able to represent not only myself and the University of Sheffield, but also SCI, to whom I am extremely grateful for awarding me this bursary and enabling me to attend this amazing conference. Thank you, SCI!

Matthew Foulkes
PhD Student
University of Sheffield

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